So the last couple of weeks, I’ve been intermittently spewing out notes on a new quartet of bunnies (or maybe it’s just a four-headed single bunny, really) that deals with four lifelong friends. Lots of history between them and a lot of bits and pieces from their growing up years that come back in the present to impact the plot. For one of them, it’s the infamous middle school crush. He comes back as part of a current day love triangle that should be hella fun to write–except for all the awkward feelings I get to remember from my own infamous middle school crush.
I say the infamous middle school crush because there’s something very particular about those…shall we say
rabid powerful attachments from that period. I mean, everybody had crushes growing up. A new one at least every year (probably). But there’s something very specific about middle school, when we were stuck in the hormone-laden waters of adolescence, not yet grown, not a child (before “tween” was a word). They stick with us in ways we might not like.
For me, that infamy began in the 7th grade. Will Edwards (name 100% changed to cover my grown-up butt) was new to school. He and two of his best buddies had been at the local private school (which, at that time, stopped at the 6th grade). Being new to public school the three of them garnered all kinds of attention (not surprising as they were all really cute). Will was in my gifted class and the sight of those almond-shaped, Arctic blue eyes struck me–usually the articulate head of the class–completely stupid. Tongue-tripping, stuttering, all but drooling with lack of functional brain cells stupid. Added to that, this was during my protracted awkward phase–braces, struggling with my weight, bad hair, glasses (which I actually found in a drawer when I cleaned out for our last move–and dear holy Jesus, they were worse than I remember). So–the geek had a crush on the smart, popular boy. You can see where this is heading. A fast track to Embarrassmentville.
This, unfortunately, was not a passing thing. In 8th grade, Will was in my pod (our middle school housed 7th and 8th grades, and each grade was subdivided into 5 smaller chunks), so we had all our classes together. He sat behind me in Mrs. Fitt’s science class. I got my braces off and got contacts that year–GREATEST THING EVER–so I actually had the confidence to, you know, try to TALK to him. I managed whole, coherent sentences of what I imagined was flirting and was probably really a painfully awkward display of pathetic. He never mocked me to my face (I have no idea what may have been said behind my back and choose not to imagine). I mean, why would he? I helped him with his homework (which he didn’t need, but took advantage of anyway). I don’t actually have a lot of clear memories of what I said or did–mostly just a hazy sense of Wow, I made a fool of myself. And I’ve worked hard to keep it that way. I was really grateful when his parents shipped him off to boarding school in 10th grade.
But that was not the end of middle school crush. Oh no. I didn’t see him, talk to him, or even really think about him for 3 years. I finally got a handle on my weight, got in shape, figured out my hair, gained confidence and generally pulled a butterfly. Between my junior and senior years, I did a summer program at Ole Miss, where I suddenly discovered that everything that made me an outcast in high school made me cool in college. Guys started to notice me. I realized high school boys were morons and had my sights set on college boys, who actually appreciated the fact that I had a brain. I had a serious countdown going to graduation and the end of hell as I knew it. I was GETTING OUT.
Then came the Charity Ball. In my hometown, the Junior Auxiliary has this big formal, black tie shindig as a fundraiser every year on Valentine’s Day. It’s the biggest babysitting night of the year, and usually I was booked months in advance (I was totally popular as a babysitter–I actually PLAYED with the kids). But senior year, I got invited to be a living ad. Local businesses pick senior girls to sponsor for the ball–we got a fabulous dress, had our picture in the paper (as ads for whoever was sponsoring us), and then did a sort of fashion show deal at the ball itself.
Well, guess who was back as one of the escorts for the ball? That’s right. Will Freaking Edwards. And he was my escort (he was one of four escorts for all of us, so it wasn’t like we got paired up in any special way). This was my chance. I was confident. I felt pretty. I knew I rocked the hell out of my dress. And I was SO OVER HIM. He was beneath my notice.
Then the night of the ball came and he showed up in a tux with those eyes and that smile and…instant brain melt down. It was horrible. As if all the intervening years had disappeared and I was that same, awkward 7th grader, I’d been. What I’d expected to be a personal triumph left me feeling small and incompetent and shamed–not because he’d actually done anything but EXIST, but because I couldn’t manage to hang on to the confidence I’d worked so damned hard on.
Our next encounter was some three years later in college, when I walked into my best friend’s house to find him sitting on the sofa. I credit adulthood, a solid relationship with my not-yet-husband, and a lot of life experience being crammed in there since my senior year of high school for the fact that I didn’t actually shut down to complete brain melt stage. But there was definitely that immediate physical reaction–the quickening of breath, tightening of chest, adrenaline dump–you know, that place that’s somewhere between attraction and abject panic. I actually had a casual conversation with him–he and my BFF were working on some accounting project together–and blessedly, made it out of there without further embarrassing myself.
I never saw him again, a fact for which I am immensely grateful. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to distance myself from who I was back then. I like who I am as an adult, thanks very much. But I suspect that if I ever did run into him, I’d probably be caught again in that weird time warp to junior high awkwardness (I also suspect he wouldn’t know me from Adam’s house cat)–because some things you just can’t escape.
An informal poll of my friends tells me that this is a fairly ubiquitous experience, and that there’s no getting away from that visceral reaction to being in the same room as your middle school crush, even years later. But I want to hear from you! Do you have a middle school crush that’s come back to haunt you? Were you one of the rare ones to end up with your middle school crush (one of my current BFFs swears that it’s a rule you can never end up with your middle school crush)? Tell me a story, folks!